MANILA - The Philippine men's national football team endured a frustrating night against Laos, losing 1-2 in their international friendly in Vientiane Monday that was marred by several scuffles and a free-for-all in the second half.
The Azkals, ranked 150th by FIFA, were expected to have another strong showing against 193rd-ranked Laos in the third and final match of their three-nation ASEAN tour.
Instead, the Azkals got off to a sluggish start as they struggled without key players Phil and James Younghusband, and the road-weary squad clearly had a tough time against the rugged defending of Laos.
After a scoreless first half, Laos broke the ice in the 52nd minute when they scored off a penalty after Rob Gier fouled a Laos player inside the box.
The scuffles broke out soon after Laos' first goal.
In the 61st minute, Misagh Bahadoran took a rough tackle and was taken down near the goal. Replays showed that he was hit on the face by a Laos player after, and Azkals striker Ian Araneta nearly started a melee when he pointed out the situation to the officials. Bahadoran was given a red card and sent off.
Play continued, but another scuffle would break out in the 65th minute and this time, it turned into a free-far-all.
Azkals defender Jason Sabio took exception to the tactics of a Laos player and confronted him. Goalkeeper Neil Etheridge went all the way up to midfield, where he was accosted by at least three Laos players.
A free-for-all then broke out, with players chasing each other all over the field. Coaches and referees eventually managed to get the match under control and play re-started at the 70th minute.
The melees seemed to take a mental toll on the Azkals, as on the 77th minute, Etheridge gave up another penalty when he fouled a Laos player inside the box.
Etheridge, who was playing with an injured right foot, failed to save the ensuing penalty kick as Laos went up 2-nil.
The Philippines had several chances to score in the remaining minutes of regulation, with midfielders Stephan Schrock and Paul Mulders both coming close to finding the back of the net.
It was not until the 92nd minute that Rob Gier managed to pull one back for the Azkals when he converted a kick off a Sabio throw-in.
It was a frustrating night for the Azkals, who lacked the crisp, sharp passing and finishing touch that they showed against Singapore. At several points in the second half, Schrock was able to fire a pass for Ian Araneta near the goal only to see his through ball go off target.
Schrock and Patrick Reichelt showed good teamwork in the midfield, at one point connecting on a strong series of passes that led to a clear attempt for Schrock. His shot sailed over the crossbar, however.
The officials' control of the match left much to be desired, especially given the fights that broke out in the second half. Many Azkals fans on social media are also pointing out that several fouls went uncalled.
Curiously, the officials only added three minutes of extra time even though several minutes were lost during the various scuffles in the second half.
The Philippines finished their three-nation ASEAN tour with a 1-1-1 record, having drawn with Cambodia 0-0 in their first game before their historic win against Singapore.
The series of friendlies are part of the Azkals' preparation for the 2012 AFF Suzuki Cup in November.